Fresh Bites Uses Food to Help Curb Alzheimer’s Progression
Artisanal small plates are moving out of trendy restaurants and into senior living communities.
Unidine, a local food and dining management company, is rolling out Fresh Bites, a program that uses food to help senior citizens preserve their memories and ward off Alzheimer’s symptoms. By providing nutritionally dense, tasty, and manageable finger food, the menu may help patients facing degenerative diseases regain their appetites.
After working for years in senior living care units, Jenny Overly, Fresh Bites’ director of nutrition, health, and wellness, noticed a troubling trend: Most patients suffering from neurodegenerative disorders, specifically Alzheimer’s and dementia, weren’t eating. The lack of proper nutrition would propel the disease further, which would in turn worsen appetite, creating a vicious cycle.
“The priority is to make sure they’re taking in enough nutrition, calories, and protein to at least maintain their weight,” Overly says. “Then we infuse the meals with ingredients that show memory-boosting, positive effect on cognitive function,” like blueberries, cabbage, salmon, dark chocolate, and deep greens.
None of Fresh Bites’ menu items require utensils, which Overly says is vital to the patients’ sense of empowerment. “We wanted to make sure they were able to be independent; they don’t have to have have the embarrassment of a staff member feeding them,” she notes. The program’s chef team packs or rolls every ingredient into a vessel—think potato cups filled with eggs, pita pockets with fresh cucumber slices, and lasagna-stuffed puff pastries.
“Finger food menus in care facilities are usually really short and all fast food, like chicken nuggets,” Overly says. “It reminds them of what you might serve a toddler. Today, we’re looking [at ways] to serve them real food.”
Fresh Bites has been running a pilot program for just over a year, with plans to roll out to new partners in 2016. The team is currently working with researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center of Aging at Tufts University to further explore the link between nutrition and neurodegenerative diseases.